Attending college was never optional for Dr. Susan Naramore Maher. Even though her mother was a homemaker, she instilled within all of her children the importance of higher education. Dr. Maher’s mother came from the family who founded Oberlin College, the first college in America to admit women, and she herself earned a teaching degree in special education. However, these progressive ideals often clashed with the traditional roles society expected of women and with the path Dr. Maher’s mother eventually chose. Dr. Maher acknowledges that her mother was quite happy as a wife and mother, and she wanted that same happiness for Dr. Maher. Growing up in a conservative but loving family, Dr. Maher recalls, “I had a mother who really felt strongly that I should be thinking about marriage and children and all of that… my mother envisioned that I would be following the path that she had followed.” Although this conventional avenue for women was typical of the time, Dr. Maher’s confusion about gender roles along with her mother’s mixed messages caused her to question the “traditional arrangements in families and in women’s lives” as both she and her mother adjusted to the time period of the 60s and 70s. Determined to carve out her own route in life and find a direction she could call her own, Dr. Maher ultimately pursued a path that differed from her mother’s. However, her mother’s influence was never too distant once Dr. Maher began to realize women could have careers and families; that women didn’t have to have a family unless they wanted to; and that women had options and could be in control of their own destinies. Dr. Maher would undoubtedly be in control of hers.
Raised in upstate New York, Dr. Maher graduated from Liverpool High School and was a New York State Regents Scholar. She chose the University of Albany for undergraduate school and majored in English with a minor in Art and Art History. The transition to urban campus life was a new experience for Dr. Maher, and she remembers it affecting her in ways she did not anticipate. Because she came from a suburban community with little diversity and most of the other students on campus were from New York City, Dr. Maher was a minority. Exposed to a diverse student body for the first time, Dr. Maher embraced it and turned it into a valuable learning experience. Dr. Maher determines that “one of the most important things that happen to a person when they are in college is learning to live with all kinds of new people. That becomes a significant part of your education.” In fact, Dr. Maher challenges young people to meet new people—especially in this globalized world of which we are a part. Dr. Maher became friends with many students who lived in other parts of the United States (U.S.), and she often travelled home with them during college breaks. These friendships helped spark the travel bug that Dr. Maher still has today.
Another formative occasion for Dr. Maher during undergraduate school occurred her junior year when she had an opportunity to study abroad at the University of Nottingham in England. Transformative and exciting as it was, Dr. Maher had to adjust to a school system that was vastly different from anything she had experienced before. England’s collegiate school system is not interdisciplinary; instead, students focus on one area only, their major, and all courses are yearlong. As an English literature major, Dr. Maher received a prodigious reading list that she was expected to complete on her own as preparation for the final exam. All lectures were optional, and students met twice a week with a graduate assistant for collaborative work time. Dr. Maher had to adjust quickly to the independent learning style of the U.K. system, which she describes as being much like graduate school; but for her, it was a confidence builder as she excelled within her concentrated area whereas many of her friends struggled.
Her year in England further exposed Dr. Maher to even more diversity. Nottingham was a working class city with many immigrants from all over the world. It had a unique dialect that was difficult to understand. However, Dr. Maher made new friends and began to understand the different perspectives and life experiences of the women to whom she grew close. Dr. Maher remembers meeting a young woman from Iran as well as a woman from South Africa who had escaped from the apartheid and was studying to be a lawyer. The kind of oppression these women lived under was something Dr. Maher herself did not experience, and it opened her eyes to how the world worked. Additionally, Dr. Maher learned that many Europeans did not think too kindly about the U.S. Because tensions remained high over the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam, Dr. Maher sometimes worried that people saw her as representative of the worst of the U.S. and not the best. Despite this, Dr. Maher describes her year in England as “amazing.” Dr. Maher readily encourages young collegians to take advantage of these types of study abroad opportunities. Dr. Maher insists that her year in England affected her for the better.
Since reading the seafaring adventure story Treasure Island, Dr. Maher knew she wanted to be an English teacher. Written by Scottish writer Louis Stevenson, this novel captured Dr. Maher’s attention as a young girl, spurring a profound love of literature. According to Dr. Maher, it was “the first time [she] had ever imagined [herself] into a story,” and something clicked. From then on, reading and writing became Dr. Maher’s passions along with drawing and painting. The one caveat to Dr. Maher’s teaching career was her strong dislike of the education classes she had to take. However, because Dr. Maher was committed to controlling her path, she dropped education and majored in English. After completing her undergraduate degree, Dr. Maher chose to attend the University of South Carolina for graduate school. She studied nineteenth century British and American literature and graduated